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Prescription Diet Pill Okayed to be Sold Over-the-Counter

A U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel has endorsed a proposal to allow a prescription diet pill to be sold over the counter.

Drug manufacturer Glaxo Smith Kline wants to sell a version of its diet drug Xenical in pharmacies without a prescription. The new pill, called Alli, would be the first approved non-prescription diet pill that blocks fat absorption.

For pastor Chad Huebner, it would mean a discrete way of dealing with his weight problem. "I don't want to have to go to the doctor to talk about my weight. We often feel that weight is something we should be able to manage ourselves."

Alli works by blocking the body's absorption of fat in the intestine. The manufacturer says it would provide a safer, more effective alternative to the products that are on shelves now.

Dr. Wayne Callaway, an endocrinologist and eating disorders expert in Washington, D.C. disagrees. "The ability for someone purchasing something over the counter, unbeknownst to what it really is, carries with it the very high risk that some of these people are going to have significant problems, and set off things like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crones Disease, or whatever, so it's not an innocuous drug that is being used."

Dr. Callaway also says there is little evidence the drug would be an effective weight loss tool.

When combined with a low-fat diet and exercise, Xenical generally results in a loss of five percent of body weight over several months. Since Alli is milder, it could have no affect at all.

Dr. Callaway adds, "I don't think that there's any difference, except that Alli will be sold at half the price of the regular thing, because the Alli is producing only half of the ingredient."

At a cost of about $100 a month, it is an expensive gamble to take. And some doctors say short-term fixes by pills are not the answer -- people must address the underlying causes of obesity.

Doctors also warn of unpleasant side effects, including intestinal problems.

But some people who want to lose weight say they will try anything.